Thirty Amsterdam men founded the Society of Polish Military Knights under the protection of St. Michael the Archangel in 1892.
Construction of a Polish Roman Catholic church began four years later with the building of St. Stanislaus on Cornell Street, still an active Roman Catholic parish on Reid Hill.
The founding pastor was Rev. Anton Gorski. While St. Stanislaus was convenient for Poles on Reid Hill, Poles who lived across Chuctanunda Creek on Park Hill, adjacent to Bigelow Sanford carpet mills, wanted their own church.
Park Hill Poles founded the Society of St. John the Baptist in 1909 as the first step toward a new parish.
Father Gorski was not pleased to see a part of the St. Stanislaus congregation walk away when Bishop Thomas Burke authorized creation of St. John the Baptist Church on Park Hill in 1910.
Reve. Peter Nowak was appointed pastor and served 50 years. The church building on Vanderveer Street opened in 1912. St. John’s closed as a Roman Catholic church in 2009.
In 1934 the Society of St. John celebrated its 25th anniversary with a dinner and commemorative booklet. Arthur Carter was mayor of Amsterdam in 1934 and for the rest of the 1930s. A native of England, Carter and the Democratic Party of the day enjoyed solid support from Polish Americans.
Carter’s ad in the 1934 St. John’s booklet stated, “It affords me great happiness and pleasure to be able to extend my heartfelt congratulations and best wishes to St. John’s Society on the occasion of its Silver Jubilee. Hoping that the future will be as bright as the past, and that it will continue to render the same full measure of helpful cooperative service to St. John’s Church, to Father Nowak, and to the city of Amsterdam that it has rendered since its origin.”
On the same page with Carter’s message was an ad from the mayor’s chief Polish American supporter, M.J. Wytrwal. Wytrwal’s ad promoted three of his family’s businesses — a pharmacy (medicine for the sick), a furniture store (furniture for the home) and a coal yard (coal for the stove).
President Franklin Roosevelt named Wytrwal to head National Recovery Act New Deal programs in Montgomery County. Wytrwal’s granddaughter was Mary Anne Krupsak, who was elected first to the state Assembly and then the state Senate. Michael Wytrwal lived to see his granddaughter elected to the state Assembly in 1968. When Wytrwal died in 1970, the Recorder editorialized that he was “a progressive in the finest sense of the word.”
Krupsak was elected New York lieutenant governor in 1974, running with Democrat Hugh Carey. In 1978 she unsuccessfully challenged Carey for governor in a Democratic primary.
THE POLISH NATIONAL LEGION
A fraternal organization for Polish American men, the Polish National Legion (P.N.L.), formed during Amsterdam’s industrial heyday in the first half of the 20th century. The P.N.L. had a military purpose when founded in 1909 — stressing military readiness with the goal of assisting in creation of the Polish nation.
The first Legion captain was Peter Wolak, a veteran of U.S. Army campaigns in the Philippines. In 1915, members decided to offer a civilian program for those not interested in joining the military unit.
Land was purchased on Vanderveer Street for a P.N.L. home. In World War I, about half the members enlisted in the American or Polish army. Poland was liberated after the war.
The P.N.L. created a men’s glee club in 1946, a singing group that performed throughout the area. When the organization closed its doors in the 1980s, each member received a share of the P.N.L.’s remaining fund balance.
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